Tag Archives: hypertrophy

Anatomy of a Kick Ass Training Session

A lot of people ask how I plan and organize my training sessions.

There are a million different ways to train out there; some good, some bad.  I don’t train the same way every day.  The key to breaking up the monotony and daily grind (as well as making permanent progress in general) is having a dynamic training schedule.  But there are rubrics you can use as the foundation for building your training program.

Let me break down one of my all-time favorite sessions for ya real quick.  I’ve found it is one of the best ways to get in the gym, move some serious weight, build some muscle and work capacity, and get the hell out, all in less than an hour and a half.  Anytime I need a “go-to” workout, this is it…

Phase 1:  The Warm Up (15 minutes)

The warm up should be fairly high paced and take about 15 minutes or so, depending on how strenuous you want to make it.

My warm ups usually only entail bodyweight, like several rounds of band stretches, bodyweight squats, walking lunges, high jumps, pushups, jogs and sprints, and lateral movements like shuffling.  Mix in some foam rolling to get everything loosened up and you should be good to go.

Have a plan, and execute it.  You should be concentrating during the warm up just as much as you would be if you were about to set a personal squat record.

This is also a great time to work on your weaknesses when you are fresh; and since you are warming up before every workout, you are attacking those weaknesses with much more frequency.  Weak on pushups?  Add an ample dose to your warm up.  If you want to be good at something, you should be doing it every day! 

big lift training session

Phase 2:  The Big Lift (30-45 minutes)

A lot of my workouts are focused on going heavy on one of the big lifts (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift).  I’ll pick one big lift to do per training session and perform it immediately after the warm up.

Four to five warm up sets usually work for me, then I’ll perform 3 working sets according to whatever my training goal and program is at the time.  If I feel I didn’t get enough, I’ll throw in some drop sets to finish the lift off.

Phase 3:  Assistance Work (20-30 minutes)

After the big lift, I’ll focus on assistance work that is meant to add size and help me to pull more weight in one of the big lifts.  Three or four exercises here will do the trick, working sub-maximally (70-85% of 1 rep max) for 6-20 reps per set, depending on the exercise.  I’ll usually do 4-6 sets per exercise.

Pushups, pull-ups, dumbbell push and pull variations, rows, good mornings, and dips are all examples of exercises to do here.  Pick exercises that will help build some muscle and will increase your ability to perform one of your big 4 lifts.

women's training session

Phase 4:  The Finisher (5 minutes)

This phase is built around conditioning and increasing your work capacity.  Heavy farmers walks, battle rope circuits, sled pulling, prowler pushing, and sprints all work well here.

Pick an exercise that isn’t necessarily strength focused, but will take some mental toughness and heart pumping effort to complete.  This phase is meant to be short and sweet, and help finish your workout with a bang.  Do not overdo this since it’s not meant to make you puke and keel over, but you should feel good and crushed when it’s over.

Wrap Up

There ya have it, a bad ass rubric for planning a complete muscle building training session! 

Sticking to this kind of template has never done me wrong, and if you are unsure of what you should be doing in the gym, this is a damn good place to start.  Now go out and crush it!

Evolve!!

— Tank

10 Reasons You Aren’t Building Muscle

Building muscle isn’t easy.  If it were, you’d be seeing a hell of a lot more impressive people out there and I wouldn’t be kicking my own ass 5 days a week to keep getting bigger and stronger.

The problem is, there could be a myriad of causes for you to not be making the progress you are looking for.  Good news is, a lot of these are fixable, and it doesn’t take rocket science to fix them in a hurry.

Now don’t get disillusioned…easy fixes don’t lead to easy muscle; there is no such thing.  It takes one thing and one thing only to pack on the pounds.

But using this list to identify shortcomings in your training will help you make progress, and by keeping all of these in check, I’d be willing to bet that you make more progress than you ever have before.

#1 You Aren’t Lifting Heavy Enough

building muscle

You will not get any training effect from lifting anything less than 70% of your 1 rep max (1RM).  Stay below this threshold for your warmup sets, but when it is time to work, you need to be working with weights in between 70-85% of your 1RM.  Stick with reps in the 6-20 range per set, depending on the exercise.

You can stray above this if you want to gain some strength, but keep your reps and frequency low.  With my current program, in a given week I’ll hit 90-95% of my 1RM only twice per big lift (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift) and my reps are usually never more than 3 for those sets.

When it comes time to do assistance work, I’m always in the 70-85% range.  Anything less, and you are wasting your time.

#2 You Are Resting Too Long

This is a huge problem for a lot of people, especially in a commercial gym scene.  If you are really trying to pack on the size, your rest periods should not be any longer than 2 minutes.  Be honest with yourself and carry a stopwatch.  Time your rest intervals and make sure you aren’t slacking.  Generally, by the time I add more weight for my next set, my rest period is just about up and it is time for me to bang out another set.

If you are training for pure strength gains, you can rest 3-5 minutes in between sets, but if you are training for hypertrophy, you better be in the 90-120 second time range.

building muscle women

#3 You Aren’t Training Frequently Enough

The less you train, the less muscle you build.  Bottom line.  This especially goes for people doing body-part splits, which is why you should ditch that style immediately and do full body or upper/lower training sessions.

You need to train frequently to trigger muscle growth and induce your body to grow and adapt.  For most of you, that means 4 days of lifting, with 1-2 days of high intensity cardio like hill sprints, or sled work.

#4 You Are Training Too Much

There is a fine line between training enough and training too much.  I’m really not a believer in overtraining, but you need to get your rest.  Your rest days are the days you actually grow, and if you don’t give yourself time to recover, your body will never catch up.

A good rule is 48 hours in between body parts/sections.  If I train upper body on Monday, I won’t hit it again until Thursday.  If you have a light workout, 24 hours of rest may work.  Just remember to take days off (and in some cases weeks), eat like a beast, and let your body recuperate from the pounding it takes.

building muscle women

#5 You Are Doing the Wrong Exercises

If you want a list of the best muscle building exercises, check it out here.

Pick exercises that recruit the most muscle by focusing on compound lifts and avoiding isolation work.  The more muscle you can recruit during a training session, the more growth you will trigger.  Plain and simple.

That means squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts are king.  Bicep curls, rope tricep extensions, and leg curls suck.  Don’t sabotage yourself by spending time on a bunch of junk work and wasting valuable training time.

#6 You Are Program Hopping

Far too often, someone will try a new program for a few weeks, feel like they aren’t getting results, and switch to something else.

Give it a chance!  Programs could take months to yield results and all it takes is persistence on your part to stick with it.  This goes especially for intermediate lifters; guys will have tremendous early success from lifting a few weights and think that is the norm.  After they plateau they may switch it up and not see the same results, but the problem lies not in the program.  They have progressed in their bodies beyond the point where results come so quickly.

Pick a program and give it a good honest 2-3 months, and then re-assess where you are.  The key here is being honest.  A lot of the time, people don’t perform the program as prescribed, tweaking things here and there, and wonder why they aren’t getting jacked…

#7 You Are Doing the Same Program For Too Long

Quite the opposite of the previous problem, but still just as common.  It is easy for us to get trapped in stale gym routines, doing the same exercises to death, and not switching things up.  Your body adapts to everything you subject it to; time of your workouts, exercises, resistance, movements, everything!

If you have been doing the same program for years, I’m no genius but it may be time to switch things up a little.

#8 Your Diet is Out of Whack

building muscle women

Your diet may be the most important component to getting the body you want, far more important than your training itself.  Want six pack abs?  Hate to break it to you but that is all diet…

Want to gain muscle?  You gotta eat.  Not only making sure you are consuming calories above your daily maintenance levels, but also counting your macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fats) to make sure they are sufficient to meeting your goals.

If you aren’t consuming enough protein and carbs, or consuming more calories than your body requires to fuel itself, you will not gain muscle or weight.  Period.

Record a daily food log if you have to.  Without a proper diet tailored to your needs and goals, you will not succeed.  Guaranteed.

#9 You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep

Not really much to say about this.  You need to be getting 8 hours of sleep.  This is when most of your tissue is repaired from ripping it all up in the weight room.  Lack of sleep increases your stress and cortisol levels, and can really f**k with your psyche.  Turn off the t.v., get your ass in bed, and get some z’s.

#10 You Haven’t Found the Mind Body Connection

If you’ve ever seen Pumping Iron with Arnold, he talks about this some.  He recalls how he can actually feel his muscles growing in that very moment and how his mind – body connection helps him get better results.

As touchy feely as this sounds, the man is right.  If you’ve ever felt this, you know what I’m talking about.  It is more than feeling “the pump”.  It is really focusing on your muscles as you complete a movement or do an exercise in the gym.  Feeling how your muscles contract and expand, how they work harmoniously together to make your body perform.

Work to establish this.  Meditate and concentrate.  If you can focus on your muscle building goal, and truly immerse yourself in the steps to get there and “feel the process”, your mind and body will be connected in such a way that you can’t help but improve.  You will be “in the zone”.

Wrapping Up…

Think about these problems and reflect on your own training habits.  Give yourself an honest evaluation and identify where you are falling short.  Use the guidelines I have given you to help rectify the problems, and re-evaluate your progress after a few months.

I will guarantee you that you will have put on more muscle if you follow my advice.  You can thank me later…

Evolve!!

— Tank

How Many Days A Week Should I Lift?

The number of days a week that you should train depends on a lot of different factors.  The most important being what your goals are and how seriously you take the strength game.

You can get some decent results from just training 3 days a week if you make each and every gym session really count.  Newbies could train even more.  Back when I first got involved in weight lifting, I trained a minimum of 5 days a week, and there were stretches where I’d be in the gym for all 7 days of the week.  Now, this shouldn’t be the norm because it simply isn’t sustainable.  My youth and relative inexperience allowed me to do this.  Eventually, lifting at that rate probably would have led me to injury and burnout.

So what is the proper balance?

To get the best results, I’d lift weights for a minimum of 4 days a week (no more than 5) using an Upper/Lower split.  Why this split?  I believe this is the best rubric for adding on muscle and gaining strength for most men and women out there.  Want the details?  Check them out here.

Your schedule should look something like this:

Monday, Thursday – Upper

Tuesday, Friday – Lower

Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday – Rest

This is one of my favorite templates to use and I rarely stray from it.  Over the summer, I’ll do one session over the weekend concentrating on strongman implements and building real world strength.  With this template, I get a full 48 hours rest in between upper and lower workouts and 2-3 rest days a week.

strength training lift weights

Now these schedules do not include cardio sessions, such as your hill sprints or sled work.  These could be done on any day you choose, but you really only need to do a couple of sessions a week to keep your body fat percentage down.  If you are currently trying to cut some fat, you may benefit from adding in an additional session or two (for a weekly total of 3-4), but do not overdo it.  Try and schedule these sessions around your rest days, so you are getting enough recovery time.

Quick Tip:  Two a days are awesome to fit your cardio in.  If you are doing it right, you only need about 20 minutes of high intensity cardio, so wake up earlier and get it done first thing in the morning and then hit the gym later in the day.  This has worked for me and is a great way to make sure my rest days are spent actually resting.

So let’s wrap this up and finish in simple terms.  Here is the bottom line.

Nobody ever got good at anything by just practicing a couple times a week.  The same principle goes for weight lifting and making a change in your body.  Want to make a transformation?  You need to train frequently enough to force your body to adapt.

If you want to really maximize your potential, 4 times a week with an Upper/Lower split is where you should live.  Four intense sessions with 3 days of rest is a killer rubric.

4 days, 4 hours a week.  No excuses.

Evolve!!

— Tank

Crank Up the Intensity

If you ask 20 trainers about what exactly “intensity” is, you are almost guaranteed to get 20 different answers.  It is one of those contentious semantics discussions in the fitness field that people argue over all the time, and nobody ever seems to agree on.

Now if you ask me however, I will explain it to you in two different ways.

There is the Russian definition (which I tend to favor):

  • The percentage of weight you are using in relation to your 1 rep max.

And then there is the American definition:

  • The relationship between reps/sets and rest times.  (Don’t confuse this with volume, which is essentially the total amount of work done in a given time and doesn’t factor in rest periods).

While I favor the Russian definition, both are acceptable and adjusting them is key to making some serious strength and muscle gains.

intensity

So my challenge to you is to crank up the intensity of your workouts immediately!

But it will take a conscientious effort on your part and some planning to make it happen.

Let’s start with #1.

Max Percentages

Your goal for any workout should be to top your workout before it, either by reps or resistance.  To do this properly you have to know the intensity you are working with.

The best way to do this is to work from a 1 rep max percentage chart, and plan your workouts weeks in advance using a systematic and methodical approach.  Check out Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 method.  It is a perfect example of varying intensity in a way that will allow you to make long term gains in strength.

For example, say you do 3 working sets of squats at 65%, 75%, and 85% of your one rep max respectively.  The next time you squat, you should up those percentages to 70%, 80%, and 90%.  The next time, higher, etc.

Now this is a vague explanation, but you get the point.  Obviously reps will vary from week to week, but the point is you should constantly be pushing yourself to improve from the week before.  In order to get stronger, you have to keep increasing the intensity and working at higher resistance levels.

Let me warn you of one thing.  Training at 100% intensity (based on #1) is not sustainable and should not be done week in and week out.  Sure you may make some gains for a while, but you will eventually plateau and quite possibly fry your central nervous system.  That is the beauty of Wendler’s 5/3/1 is that you don’t ever “max” out.

Alright, now what about #2.

Rest Times

Decreasing rest times is not necessarily popular when training for maximum strength, but it is an integral part of mass building and bodybuilding.

Shorter rest times really challenge your muscles and allows you to cram a lot of volume into a single workout, leading ultimately to gains in muscle mass.  Resting for too long can hinder your growth, as your muscles are fully recuperated and are not challenged enough.

Experiment with shorter and longer rest periods, and keep varying your approach to keep your body continually guessing.  Not varying your rest times allows your muscles to adapt just like they would if you never varied the weight you were using, so you need to keep it interesting.

I’ve been tying a new approach for the last month.  It is too early to tell if I’m reaping any benefits, but the approach is well documented and widely used, and has yielded some great results for people.

Some of you may have heard of the Doggcrap method, a forum born program that started almost as a fluke but caught like wildfire.  The program itself is based around rest-pause, which is what I have been using for the past month and is a great way to expose you to higher intensities.

Basically, you take a weight you can handle for say 8-10 reps.  Pump em out, rest for 15 seconds, pump out as many as you can again (likely 3-5), rest for another 15 seconds, and then pump em out again (prob for another 2-3).  

This allows you to get a lot of work done in a hurry.  It’s been kicking my ass the past 4 weeks and has been a great experience.  If you try rest-pause, don’t do it with squats or deadlifts…

Decreasing your rest times also allows you to build up some serious work capacity.  If you aren’t sure what exactly that is, read this.  Work capacity is the most overlooked component of a strength training regimen but is of huge importance if you want to make continual long term gains.

Crank It Up

If you want to take your strength training to the next level, you have to crank up your intensity, ideally by the definitions I laid out above.

Vary your resistance and rest times, and keep challenging yourself.  Beat your records from week to week, either by heavier resistance, shorter breaks, or even just a few total reps.  The idea is to get better each and every time, plain and simple.  And its all based on intensity!

Evolve!!

— Tank

 

Ditch the Body Part Split!

I’d venture to guess that most of you landing here at Primal Strength Camp for the first time train using some kind of body part split.

Does your routine look like one of these?

Chest                                               Chest and Tri’s
Arms                                                Back and Bi’s
Legs                                                Legs and Shoulders
Back and Shoulders                        More Legs

I bet it is fairly similar.  What I’ll also bet is that you are not a professional or aspiring bodybuilder.

So let me break the bad news to you; unless you plan on getting on that stage any time soon to compete, you are sabotaging yourself.

Body part splits are “gain killers”.  Stop doing them.  You can’t keep working out the way these awful muscle magazines or the meatheads at your local gym tell you.

Recruit More Muscle to Build More Muscle

Seems like a straightforward concept right?  The more muscle you can stimulate in a given period of time, the more growth you can trigger.

The key to accomplishing this is through total body workouts, or for the intermediate and advanced lifter, an upper/lower split.  Instead of just training your chest and triceps in a given workout, using your entire body recruits far more muscle resulting in much bigger gains.

body workouts

Want a real world example?  Think about male gymnasts.  Ask any dude out there if he would want to look like a gymnast and I bet he can’t tell you no with a straight face.  Those dudes are jacked!

Think they look like that because they focus half their gym time in a given day on their biceps?  No!  They train total body each and every day.

By recruiting more muscle, you will make far bigger strength gains than you would training with isolated body parts as well.

Eliminate the Garbage 

Workouts consisting of squats, clean and presses, pull-ups, and pushups are going to recruit far more muscle than one consisting of lat pulldowns, bent over rows, preacher curls, and concentration curls.

Cramming a total body workout into a single training session forces you to eliminate the crap and choose your exercises carefully.  Ditch the isolation movements and feed yourself a steady diet of compound exercises and plyometrics.

Most of us aren’t bodybuilders so there is no sense in training like one.  You will get far better results training like an athlete.

Frequency

Looking at the split routines I laid out in the beginning of this post, you will see it takes 4 days of work to fully train the entire body.  Add in a prescribed two days of rest, and your week of training is over.

Now let me ask you, who ever got good at anything by practicing once a week?  Because that is exactly what you are doing if you are following a body part split; the way the spit works out, you hit your chest once a week, your back once a week, etc.

With total body workouts, or upper/lower splits, you are hitting your muscle groups with at least twice as much frequency meaning you are triggering twice as many growth phases. In any given year, if you are only training each body part once a week, that is 52 growth phases.  Lose the body part split and you are already up over 100 growth phases. That should blow your mind!

Now ask yourself, who is going to be bigger and stronger at the end of the year?  The person growing 52 times a year or 100?

And since you are not spending inordinate amounts of time on any one body part, your recovery times for muscle groups are cut in half, leading to more growth time and avoiding a possible onset of overtraining.

strength training body workouts

So what is the best training split?

I’d start with none!  If you are experienced, switch to an upper/lower.

If you need a jumpstart, check out this post on a full body or upper lower split.

Implementing a Full Body or Upper Lower Split

If you want an entire 8 week program based on using an upper lower split, then join the thousands of others in Primal Nation and download Uncaging Your Primal Strength from the right hand side of this page.

Have questions, feel free to email me via the contact form or drop a comment here on this post and I’ll be glad to help!

Evolve!!

— Tank

Hybrid Primal Training

Anyone who has been around the weight lifting game for a while knows that you work with different rep ranges depending on what your training goal is at the time.

  • 6-12 reps for muscle mass gain (hypertrophy)
  • 2-5 reps for strength
  • 12-20 for endurance

When you train with me, you can bet that we will live in that 3-5 rep range.  But who’s to say we can’t train for multiple benefits at once?  As long as you follow the rules of the road and don’t add too much volume for hypertrophy during the same session that you are trying to train for strength, or try to do so much in a workout that it lasts for over an hour, we can mix and match strategies to achieve a variety of benefits.

When training Primal, the name of the game is getting strong.  We will always emphasize that.  But damn, we all want to look good too.  Why not throw some bodybuilding in there?  And if you can’t move, what’s the point of being strong?  You have to train like an athlete.train like an athlete

Check out this sample workout to see what I mean.  Start with your big, compound strength lift.  Add in a few supplemental exercises that will either help you in your strength lifts, or help pack on the size.  And I’m a big fan of finishers to increase work capacity and cardiovascular strength and endurance.

* the rubric below does not count warmup sets.  Set x Rep numbers are representative of high-end working sets only.  During the initial strength exercise, you will rest up to 5 mins between sets, and for all other exercises, no more than 90 seconds *

  • Dynamic Warmup (pushups, bodyweight squats, lunges, animal walks, band pull aparts, etc.)
  • Bench Press: 5 x 5
  • Pullups: 4 x AMRAP
  • High Pull: 4 x 8
  • Sled Drags
  • Battle Rope

Boom!  Total body workout, multiple rep ranges, great conditioning finisher.  We’ve covered all of our bases.

Now, this template isn’t for everybody, and looking at it, it’s a big workout.  Something like this is geared towards a more experienced lifter, or someone who is in a maintenance stage or transitioning to some other period of a specific goal.  Beginners could steal from this workout by taking 3 of the exercises plus the warmup and probably get damn good results.

Want more workouts like these?  Follow our daily workouts on the homepage.  Come to Strength Camp Saturdays if you are in the Charlottesville area!

The best and only way to reach new levels in your training is to get stronger!

Evolve!!

— Tank

How to Build A Bigger Back

A well developed back can be one of the biggest indicators of someone disciplined in the strength game. Your back contains a ton of musculature and there are a ton of different ways to attack it, so the key is knowing how to make the most of your back training.

Using compound exercise are key and working in a lot of different variations will help ensure you are hitting all of the different muscles in your back. The following exercises should represent your foundation.

muscle building back

Top 5 Back Building Exercises

  1. Pull-Ups – This classic exercise narrowly missed being in my overall Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises,  but it can easily be argued as the best back builder of all time.  If you are serious about any kind of strength training program, this is a must!  Be sure to try the dozens of variations out there (wide grip, neutral grip, overhand, underhand, static holds, etc.).
  2. Farmer Carries – This is one of my favorite exercises, not only for its effectiveness but also its versatility.  You can carry anything!  You don’t need a gym to do these.  Try performing a couple heavy rounds of these and your back will be crushed.  And not only that, this will develop your gripping power like none other, which will help you in any other heavy lift you do at the gym.
  3. Deadlift – While some may initially think of this as a leg exercise, nothing puts meat on your traps like the deadlift.  Pulling up heavy sh*t off the floor and holding it there is a killer workout.  Nothing measures overall strength like the deadlift, and its full body benefits make it the #1 muscle building exercise of all time.
  4. Hang Cleans – Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research.  It’s an easy lift to learn and one of the most effective exercises for building your shoulders and upper back.  They also develop your explosiveness, which will carry over into your other lifts and directly translate to increase athletic performance.
  5. Bent Over Rows – You can perform these a number of ways, but my personal favorite is using dumbbells.  Barbells allow you to really stack the weight, but can put greater stress on your back and also opens the opportunity for your stronger side to overcompensate for your weaker side.  Dumbbells may expose your weak side, but will also force you to isolate it, making sure both sides get equal work.  This is also a great arm builder and grip strength exercise as well.muscle building back

You should be training your back at least multiple times a week on your upper body days. These 5 exercises should be performed at least once during your weekly training schedule.

With pull-ups and rows, there are so many variations to choose from, so make sure you work them in. Many times I work farmers carries into my conditioning drills on lower body days to get additional back work in. On your active recovery days, pull-ups make a great option as light bodyweight work that will build a ton of muscle.

— Tank

Why Women Should Lift Heavy

Ladies, you can’t be afraid of the weights!  

I get questions all the time from girls like “Tank, how do I tone my arms” or “How do I get a tighter butt?” or “How do I lose weight but put on muscle?”

My one and only answer?  Lift weights and lift heavy.

The generic is response is “But I don’t want to get big muscles and look like a linebacker.”

Girls are always afraid of this, but let me be the first one to tell you that this is nothing to be afraid of!

If it was that easy to pack on muscle, you would see many more jacked dudes walking around.  Trust me, it isn’t that easy.

Why is it not that easy?

Most of it can be attributed to two key differences between men and women: hormones and diet.

First of all, a lot of the muscle growth in men is attributed to hormone production.  Since you ladies have much lower levels of hormones like testosterone, you need not be afraid of looking like a science experiment.

Diet is another contributing factor.  A lot of jacked up dudes are consuming far in excess of their maintenance levels.  You rarely need to force feed yourself calories, especially since it is not your goal to get huge in the first place.  Eating a balanced diet with proper nutrition will yield you great results.

Want to look like this girl?

tighter butt

Think this girl looks like this because she lives on a treadmill and does set after set of crunches?  No!  She lifts weights and she lifts heavy.

The normal female desires of getting toned and losing weight really just translates to building muscle and losing body fat.

Weight lifting does both of these for you.

The “toned” look is the by-product of having a good amount of lean muscle mass.  You can’t actually tone a muscle.  If you want better arms, you can’t bicep curl and tricep kick-back your way into success.  You need to work your entire body by lifting weights and putting more muscle onto your frame.

Lifting weights not only builds muscle, but it boosts your metabolism long after you have left the gym, putting you in prime fat burning mode.  If you develop a routine and lift weights with regularity, you will be a fat burning machine 24/7!

How do I do it?

Start by budgeting at least 3 days of your week to lift weights for 1 hour.  Workouts should consist of total body movements.  Compound exercises are king; avoid isolation exercises.

Don’t know what exercises to do?  Pick from this list.  Perform 4 per session.

Make sure to do a proper warmup and keep the number of sets per exercise to 3-4 in the beginning.  Each set can be performed for roughly 6-12 reps, depending on the amount of weight you are using.

Lift as heavy as you can in this prescribed rep range.  Lifting heavy burns far more calories than really high rep programs and is a major metabolism booster, burning even more fat during your recovery periods.

Make sure you increase your intensities each set (progressive overload).  As you get stronger, you can start with more weight and progressively go for heavier weights.  You should be improving each week in the beginning.

Rest periods should be short, no longer than 90 seconds in between sets.  The reality is that females require shorter rest periods than males, so 90 seconds is being generous.  You should be able to perform sets with as low as 30 seconds of rest in between sets, depending on how hard you are working yourself.  Do not rest too long!  You must challenge yourself and crank up the intensity to get results.

Strong is the new skinny!  Don’t be afraid to pick up some weights and lift with the boys.  Truth is, I’ve seen girls that can outlift a lot of guys these days and they look good doing it.  Plus it will be a big boost to your ego by seeing the stunned looks on guys faces around your gym after you dominate them!

Evolve!!

— Tank

Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  For part 1, click here!

By now you’ve heard my sermon on training for strength.  I generally talk down on the “bodybuilding” approach; I passionately believe that the majority of us should be training for strength, not strictly for mass gain and appearance.  See my post on training like an athlete; it is one of my favorites and I bet it will change how you look at your training regimen.  However…

Bodybuilding has it’s place.  For bodybuilders (and I mean people who are competing or have aspirations to compete), it’s the logical, standard approach.  And it may even work for the average Joe (which is the majority of the people in the gym, whether or not you want to admit it) for a little while…but it will never work permanently; just like my approach for training for strength won’t either.

**Note** If you aren’t familiar with the concept of linear periodization, google it and make yourself smarter.  It is the foundational rule of strength training and one that everyone should know.strength training

Anyhow, back to this post.

Bodybuilders stop here.  Read my post on training like an athlete and part 1 of this series, and work those styles into your regimen when you need to switch it up.  I can guarantee it will work wonders for you.

Now, average Joes, gym rats, and about 90% of the gym population, LISTEN UP!  This post should really hit home for you.  You should be doing the direct opposite of my bodybuilding friends; aim to increase your base strength and mix in the bodybuilding only as a short period of your overall routine.

Just using a bodybuilding approach is great for beginners;  if you’ve never picked up a weight before, I bet you can make some serious gains quick.  I am a prime example of that.  Using a high volume, body part split routine I gained 40lbs in just over 4 months as a rookie.

But I quickly hit a plateau.  Boom!  My gains came to a screeching halt.

Now I’ve completely reversed my training style.  Now the bodybuilding/hypertrophy period of my training is relatively short compared to my strength period (roughly only 3-4 months of the whole year).  That means that about 75% of the year I’m training strictly to get stronger, while bodybuilding and time off make up the remaining 25%.  A lot of times I’ll work in a bodybuilding type movement into my daily workouts, while sill doing a majority of compound type strength exercises in low rep ranges.

This approach has served me and my training partners well; it allows you to make significant and systematic strength gains, while allowing you to put mass on your frame without getting that “puffy look” that a lot of guys get from doing too much volume.

You can also use this style to bring up your weaknesses and help improve your big lifts.

Lets say I want to add some weight to my bench press; taking a bodybuilding approach and doing some direct triceps work can help build my synergist muscles and help me put up bigger numbers.  My deadlift is slacking?  Time to attack the hamstrings.  Get the idea?

You may also hit a time in your training where your actual size prohibits you from advancing your strength gains.  I’ve reached sticking points to where I needed to get physically bigger for me to achieve the strength goals I had.  I only weigh 175lbs, but I routinely squat over 400lbs.  Not a bad feat, but I have reached a limit to where my body just simply cannot handle the load I put onto it.

Powerlifters often talk about “eating past their sticking points”, meaning they simply try to gain weight to improve their lifting ability.  Using the bodybuilding approach for part of your training regimen to concentrate strictly on mass gain can help you get stronger.  Get bigger to get stronger.

strength trainingBottom Line

Bodybuilding is a great supplemental training style to add to your regimen.  But do not do it all the time if you are not an aspiring competitor!

Add some bodybuilding to your daily strength workouts, and you can do a few months of bodybuilding per year to help bring your mass gains up to par if you are not happy with your progress.  Use bodybuilding to bring up your weaknesses and synergistic muscles that will help you in your big lifts like the bench press or deadlift.

Mass gain from bodybuilding will also help you get stronger in the long run by making your body more capable of handling huge weights.

Just remember, the stronger you are, the better off you’ll be.  Even if you want the bodybuilder look, the stronger you are, the more weight you can use, the bigger you will get!

Evolve!!

— Tank

 

Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 1 of 2)

Preface

I will always promote the idea of getting stronger, first and foremost.  This requires me to show normal gym rats why they should train to get strong, and why they shouldn’t emphasize the high volume bodybuilding approach that they mimic off other dudes in the gym or read in all of the muscle magazines.  I am not slamming bodybuilding routines; in fact they can be very valuable and I still use them in my program. But what I am saying is that for those of us not trying to compete in a bodybuilding show, high volume training sessions should only be a very small portion of our training program.

Alright, now that that is out of the way, lets kick this thing off!

Base Strength

Training for strength kinda seems like a no-brainer.  After all, lifting weights at the gym is allegedly called strength training.

But how I see people train most of these days is far from it.  In reality, what I usually see is people lifting like bodybuilders (85% or less than their one rep max in high volume sessions) in order to get a more visually pleasing body.  The vast majority of us are not bodybuilders!  So why are you training like one?!?!  Nothing wrong with trying to look good and get bigger, but there is a better way to go about it.

strength training

Increasing your “base strength” levels will lead to long term mass gains and can be accomplished by simply training to get stronger.

Base strength is the low end level of any given person’s strength ability, like the weight a person can do, for say, 20 reps without warming up.  So if a guy can squat 600lbs at max effort, his base strength may be squatting 300lbs.

Ok, so what does having great base strength mean for mass gain?

Well, if you are like most smart lifters, you follow some form of periodization, usually a strength phase followed by a hypertrophy phase.  And if you are simply trying to get bigger or get a more impressive physique, you are probably emphasizing the hypertrophy phase.  Perfectly logical.

However, lets think about this in a different way.  Training for mass gain you are operating at 85% or less of your one rep max for reps of 6-12 a set for the most part.  But what if your 85% could be done with much more weight?  Wouldn’t you put on more mass because you are using more resistance?  You betcha!!

At the end of a 12 week cycle, who is going to have a bigger chest?  The guy who can bench 225 for 12 reps a set, or the guy who can bench 185 for 12?  The 225 guy obviously because his base strength levels are much higher.

Make sense?  This is why I emphasize training for strength.  The more we improve our base strength, the more weight we can use during hypertrophy training, meaning the bigger we can get.

Lesson learned?  Do not neglect the “strength” part of strength training.  Cut down the reps, crank up the resistance, and train like an athlete.  You must train to get stronger, regardless of your overall goals.  Strength is the foundation for which all fitness achievements are built upon.

Stay tuned for part 2 over the weekend, where I give bodybuilding its credit as a supplemental tool to your training program!  I will also give you a pro-con list to these 2 vastly different training approaches.

Evolve!!

–Tank

Food For Thought

There is also a flip side to this concept but I have yet to see it tested or proven one way or another.  If an athlete can improve his base strength levels by 50lbs (for example increasing his bench from 200lbs to 250lbs), will his absolute max strength improve as well?  Will training for base strength lead to an ability to surpass previous one rep maxes?

I suspect the answer is no, but the body is an amazing thing.  This may be something I evaluate in the future and try on myself.